Justice Department Accuses Tech Companies Of 'Stifling' Speech

The Justice Department appears to be gearing up to investigate whether Google, Twitter and Facebook are squelching speech.

The agency said this week in a widely circulated statement that Attorney General Jeff Sessions plans to meet with state attorneys general "to discuss a growing concern that these companies may be hurting competition and intentionally stifling the free exchange of ideas on their platforms."

The news comes at a time when tech companies are increasingly under attack by conservatives for allegedly discriminating against right-wing views -- either by blocking posts, burying links to conservative commentary or, in at least one case, hindering monetization of conservative clips.

Those accusations reached new heights last week, when President Trump made the astonishing claim that Google's search engine is "rigged" because it highlights stories from "Fake CNN."

But even before Trump's pronouncement, Congress held more than one hearing at which conservatives denounced tech companies for allegedly suppressing right-wing opinions. Even Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai joined the chorus of voices condemning tech companies -- despite the agency's lack of jurisdiction over social media services or search engines.

But while conservatives might condemn tech companies over their decisions about content, the law is on the tech companies' side. Courts have said over and over that Google, Facebook and other companies have every right to pick and choose what material to allow on their platforms, due to the First Amendment. That amendment to the Constitution prohibits the government from either censoring or compelling speech.

What's more, despite the energy some right-wingers are devoting to this issue, there's no evidence that tech companies actually block conservative content more frequently than liberal material. Ari Waldman, a professor at New York Law School, made that point when he testified to Congress earlier this year.

"When victims of racist, homophobic, and sexist tweets and comments post those comments to call out the aggressors, it is often the victims that are suspended or banned," he said in prepared testimony. "Activists associates with the Black Lives Matter movement have reported just as many if not more take downs of images discussing racism and police brutality than any of the anecdotal evidence of suspensions or take downs on the right."

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